Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Talented Amanda Webb

Things are going more smoothly on the art front. I have more art from Bryan Fowler (the guy who did that awesome Winged Monkey pic a while back) that I might show you at some point. But this week, I'm going to show you one of the pieces from Amanda Webb featuring the Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger. She has the rest of the art that she has done for me on her website. She's available for commissions, so don't let her be a starving artist.

Edit: Amanda no longer features links to the rest of the work on her main page, so here are more direct links to these works.
Ozma and Inga, Scarecrow and Scraps, Dorothy and Button Bright, and Oz Soldiers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Oz and Ends

Now that I've covered all of the major subsystems, let's get into some of the smaller details.

The basic mechanic: Why have 2 6-siders counted separately? Once I had divined the "size matters" principle for the combat system, the 1-5 size scale suggested itself almost immediately, along with the 1d6-low mechanic. The second die came in as I decided that I wanted to make success easier for younger players with fragile, developing egos. Patronizing of me, I know. It wound up correcting for itself, anyway. Now, if I want to give a character a roughly 30% chance of success, I set the skill level to 1 instead of 2. a 50% chance comes at skill level 2, not 3.

The contest and simple contest mechanics were in place before the 2 die system, but they converted over fairly easily. I originally used a "lower is better" style for contested actions, but it was pointed out to me that a "blackjack" (as high as you can without going over) method would require less math, which made it immediately more desirable.

It also created a viable "crit" mechanic in the form of double successes. I am rather fond of those "woohoo!" moments in a game where the dice let you "bat it out of the park." I had toyed with a few ideas for such a system with the one die, including something akin to the "confirm the crit" technique from D&D. The two die system allows the crit to be established with a single roll, speeding up play.

Templates: One thing that I wrestled with for some time was how to construct characters.
Not just a trait scheme, but how to populate that scheme. Combining attributes and skills was simply not viable with the scale of game that I had. So I looked to a couple of games already on my shelf. Notably "Dream Park" and "Pokethulhu", both of which featured traits that were not quite attributes, but were a bit more than skills. I came up with the final list by averaging out the lists of the two games and removing the fighting abilities (Remember a few posts back? "Not everyone is a fighter." I knew you could).

I decided rather quickly that I wanted a fairly closed character creation system. If I went too open, players were just as likely to recreate characters from their D&D game as they were to try something Ozzy. As I read the stories, I realized that the protagonists of the stories fell into a few major categories. These became the concepts that I would build templates around. Another upshot is that Dorothy becomes much more viable, if only to create party variety. Also, since the Dorothy template (Child in Oz) is based on the same number of skill points as any of the other templates, she should have just about as much to contribute. Especially with the high Wits rating that the template provides (Dorothy had quite a lot of perseverance and Trot was nearly fearless), a Child can stand up to just about anybody.

The Scholar template was one of the last additions. A commentator on noted that a number of my templates were "skill paragons", such as the Child in Oz template
being the "Wits paragon." But I didn't have a "Brains paragon." Reviewing my source material, I realized that a Brains paragon was highly appropriate. There was the Woggle-bug, who participated in the adventures in "The Land of Oz" and the Frogman who was featured in "The Lost Princess of Oz." Although both of these characters were very unusual, there was nothing so strange that a standard template wouldn't suit for either of them.

Character Advancement: There really isn't any. Dorothy is much the same character she was when she first arrived in Oz. While she doesn't accumulate powers and skills, she does accumulate friends. Thus the Friends List becomes an implicit means of character improvement. There are some exceptions, though. The Wizard of Oz began as a humbug wizard, but later began to study under Glinda and learned real magic. Since he doesn't use the stage magic after this, it could be argued that he "traded in" his Humbug Magic skill for true Magic skill. A more final version of the rules will mention this option a bit more explicitly.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Do you believe in magic?

This was actually the primary aspect that convinced me that Oz needed it's own system. Just about every ruleset that I was familiar with (which is quite a few, I'll warn you now), had battle magic, such as the obligatory fireball spell. While it's cool to allow wizards to be useful in combat situations, that's not how the Oz stories worked. Magic was very much a plot device.

The first question I faced was whether to use a freeform magic system, with no set spells, or a more structured system. Faced with the plot device magic of the stories, I chose to go with a freeform system, since all the magic users seemed to have the right spell at the right time. Unless they didn't, of course.

Now to give it some structure. One of the first things I knew was that there was no fireballs. While it's certainly possible for a wizard to make an opponent uncomfortable in a number of ways, there are no direct damage effects. That just left me to dig up exactly what kind of effects were appropriate.

"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" had quite a lot of magic in it. The Silver Shoes which enabled Dorothy to return home at the end. The Magic Cap which allowed the Wicked Witch of the West (and later Dorothy) to command the Winged Monkeys. The Witch's Silver Whistle which summoned wolves, jackdaws, and wasps. The Witch's plot to make an iron bar invisible so that Dorothy would trip over it.

Then there was the Powder of Life and the Wishing Pills from "The Marvelous Land of Oz." The Magic Belt from "Ozma of Oz." Are we detecting a pattern yet?

Most of the early magic was in the form of items with very little spell-casting. It wasn't until much later in the series that spells and such came to the fore. It's a fairly safe bet that the Wizard making a camp out of handkerchiefs in "The Emerald City of Oz" was the first onstage spell-casting in the series.

A case could be made that most of the magical items were used by wicked spell-casters, while good spell-casters were able to pull out whatever spell they needed. This tied neatly into my concept of friends and their relationship to Oz Points. Since wicked characters don't have friends, they don't have pools of Oz Points, and so must resort to other methods. Magic items are reliable, and the exotic ingredients required to make potions and notions help offset the lack of Oz Points.

And then there's the use of cute little poems. Many characters used poems and songs to some degree, but the Wizard used them a few times to use his magic. This led to the Rhyming skill and the means to use it to make magic easier. The Rhyming skill also made sense for a character like Scraps, the Patchwork Girl with all of her silly rhymes.

I still have one hurdle left. I need to figure out how to cancel spells. When Ozma reversed Mrs. Yoops transformations in "The Tin Woodman of Oz", she was unable to completely undo Woot's shapechange. A portion of the plot of "The Magic of Oz" revolved around the Wizard's attempts to free Trot and Cap'n Bill from a magical trap. In "Glinda of Oz", Glinda is completely unsuccessful in using her magic to control the Skeezer island and must resort to figuring out Queen Coo-ee-oh's magic to raise the island.

"The Magic of Oz" also brings up an interesting case. Before he can attempt to free Trot and Cap'n Bill, the Wizard must recover his Magic Bag, which has become lost. This bag also goes missing when Ugu the Shoemaker steals all of the magic in Oz in "The Lost Princess of Oz." Even the potent Yookoohoos may require magical tools of some sort. Mrs. Yoop needed none when she transformed the Tin Woodman, Scarecrow and Woot the Wanderer in "The Tin Woodman of Oz", but Red Reera used a magic powder for her transformations in "Glinda of Oz". That is why both of the magical character templates include the Magical Toolkit trait, but may buy it off.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I get by with a little help from my friends

The Oz Point system was one of the first and last things that I came up with. First in that I knew that I would need something like it, but last in taking final form.

I knew that I would have to come up with a certain level of bribery to encourage players to "keep it Ozzy." Not enough people are familiar with the Oz stories in any particular depth to simply trust that they will figure it out. Also, part of my target market is the typical Oz fan, not just the typical gamer. While this portion of my target audience may have the encyclopedic knowledge of Oz, they might not have the gaming acumen to pull it off.

Then I had to face the question of exactly what is Ozzy roleplay? That would only be answered once I answered the question: What is the theme of your game? It took some thought, but the theme of the Adventures in Oz roleplaying game is the same as the theme of the classic Oz stories: "Exploring Oz with your friends."

Think about it for a moment. Every Oz story has new places to visit and people to meet. And friends abound. It's not just the friends that you adventure with, but also the friends you make along the way. So Ozzy roleplay is about adventuring with friends and making friends.

The idea of having a specific Friends List did not come from MySpace, but from another thought experiment RPG I designed (and may eventually publish. Maybe). It was based around the idea that action movie characters become more badass when they are fighting for something they care about. So a character in that system featured a list of "Story Hooks," or things that the character cared about and was willing to fight for.

You earn Oz Points by helping your existing friends or by making new friends and adding them to your Friends List. You spend them to gain a bonus to die rolls or to call on a friend on your list for aid.

It wasn't until after I had this designed that I realized how Ozzy it really was. One of the most irritating moments in the Oz series, for me anyway, came from "Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz". Dorothy, the Wizard and company had been running from several dangers, from the vegetable Mangaboos, the Wooden Gargoyles, and man-eating bears in the Valley of Vo, to the dragonettes. Finally, they reach a dead end in a cave. The only way out is to go back through all the stuff that they've spent the story thus far running away from. Finally, Dorothy remembers that her friend Ozma checks in on her regularly and will take her to the Emerald City if she gives the signal at the right time.

As a reader, I found this quite jarring. They could have bypassed any number of the dangers they faced whenever they wanted to. They spent several days in the Glass City of the Mangaboos awaiting execution. Any one of those days could have been used to wish them all to safety in the Emerald City!

If this were a session of the Adventures in Oz RPG, it makes much more sense. The Narrator has thrown the party a situation that they have decided that they cannot handle on their own, so Dorothy's player spends an Oz Point to call on her friend Ozma (a friend she made in the last adventure "Ozma of Oz") to get her out of this one.

I did not design the system with that scenario in mind, but I was pleasantly surprised that what I designed fit the situation so perfectly.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Everything I need to know about combat I learned from the Tin Woodman

One of the first things I knew about this design was that the combat system had to be perfect. Any other element could be lackluster, but combat had to be especially Ozzy.

I know what you're thinking: There's no combat in Oz! And my answer is: You're partly right.

If you've only seen the movie, then you don't know how violent the story was. The Tin Woodman wound up using his ax to very good effect in the book. That mainly happened in the first book, with later stories being much more kid-friendly and not very violent at all.

So an Oz combat system should have two basic goals: 1) it should represent fights when they happen and 2) it should be used rarely. I think the final result (which you can download from my website) fills both criteria. It models Oz combats and is scary enough to encourage only minimal use.

The first few things that I noticed were that, in an Oz combat, "size matters" and "limbs go flying." In "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", the Tin Woodman defeats wolves and bobcats with ease, but even he runs before the sheer bulk of the kalidahs. Which is one of the reasons that Size is a trait in the RPG. I toyed with the idea of having Size equal hit points, until my understanding of the "limbs go flying" principle canceled it out. Then I had Size represent a "saving throw vs. limb loss", until I thought about "dice-flow"; the idea that one person should not make too many die rolls at one time. The current system only worries about relative size.

"Limbs go flying": This one goes back to the Tin Woodman's origin. His ax was enchanted to cut his limbs off one by one. As he lost limbs, he got them replaced with tin, until there was nothing left but tin. Then, in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", the Tin Woodman dispatches many of his opponents by beheading them. No generic "damage", just a neat loss of the head. This was continued in Baum's non-Oz story "The Magical Monarch of Mo", which featured a chapter that revolved around the Monarch losing his head in battle with the Purple Dragon and his quest for a replacement.

One of the later items I discovered was "some things just hurt." In "The Land of Oz", General Jinjur's army conquered Oz by poking their opponents with knitting needles. In almost any other system, there would be at least some damage potential to this tactic. 1 hit point at a time, but with enough pokes, a PC could be reduced to a bloody mess just barely hanging on to life. But that was never the idea. The idea was to create a little bit of pain to encourage compliance. And in "Ozma of Oz", Tik-tok clobbers the leader of the Wheelers with a tin dinner pail. Again, this is not intended as a damaging attack. In this case, it's almost like Tik-tok was administering a spanking to the Wheeler (an approved parenting tactic in those days) to encourage him to behave. That's where the concept of Wits damage came in.

"Healing isn't easy" is another lesson I learned from the Tin Woodman. Since no one gets sick in Oz, there are no professional physicians. If you want to recover from your limb loss, you'll have to get creative. The Tin Woodman found a tinsmith to replace his parts. The Magical Monarch of Mo goes through several replacement heads, made of such things as candy and wood, before he is able to get his original head back.

And of course "Not everyone is a fighter." Even though it was Dorothy's dinner pail, it was Tik-tok who swung it.

So to sum up, my design goals were "size matters", "limbs go flying", "some things just hurt", "Healing isn't easy", and "Not everyone is a fighter".

Next week, I'll talk about friends and how important they are in Oz and how that impacted my design.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...